Initiating Turkish Economic Activity in the Middle East: Politicians or Businessmen?

By Küntay, Burak | Journal of Business and Behavior Sciences, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Initiating Turkish Economic Activity in the Middle East: Politicians or Businessmen?


Küntay, Burak, Journal of Business and Behavior Sciences


INTRODUCTION

Turkey has always been a regionally important country in the Middle East. Traditionally a Western ally, represented in many of the Western institutions and conducting most of its trade with the West, Turkey nevertheless remained important for the politics of the Middle East, adopting however a rather low-profile stance in the decades following its foundation. Since the 1980s onwards, the country gradually restructured its foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East, ultimately becoming heavily involved in conducting trade and having numerous active businessmen in the process. This new process sped up after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The biggest boost to increasing political and economic ties with the Middle East has been witnessed during AKP's (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi - Justice and Development Party) three consecutive terms, starting from 2002. AKP pursued an assertive, coherent and ambitious foreign policy, partially combining its domestic and foreign policy goals through increasing foreign ties and eradicating problems with neighboring countries, strengthening its vote base among the small and middle sized companies whose best potential countries can be found among the Middle Eastern countries. This research is timely because the recent political developments in the region casted doubt on the sustainability and the future prospects of increased Turkish activity in the Middle East, and there is now need to go back for a retrospective analysis of how the change occurred in the first place.

This article will analyze the relationship between Turkish government officials and the businessmen which paved the way for increasing Turkish activity and overall rapprochement with the Middle East. By scrutinizing the historicity and describing the nature of the relationship and the consequences of the activities of the past decade, the paper aims to clarify the balance maintained between those two pioneer groups, namely the foreign policy officials and businessmen (or business associations).

Turkey's entry into the European Council, followed by its membership in NATO and various other Western based trade and political institutions and agreements much of its foreign policy actions during the Cold War, and this picture has changed only in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, with regional actors suddenly having more room to maneuver, a development which, in addition to the cooperation and integration opportunities it presented, caused regional politico-military conflicts, sometimes as heavy as it happened in Yugoslavia. What pushed Turkey's economic activity forward in the area is that Turkey readily possessed necessary economic strength in terms of GDP size, industrial base, diversity of produced goods much needed by the Middle Eastern countries, as well as the advantages derived by geographical and cultural proximity. In a pattem that can also be seen in Turkish activity in Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, foreign policy moves were coordinated with business circles, most notably through business associations and increased presence of Turkish Airlines, in a coordinated fashion with foreign policy officials. Turkey thus enjoyed strong relations with the region, relying at the same time on its cultural, historical, and religious ties.

Given this background, this paper will analyze the driving force behind Turkey's increased economic activity in the Middle East, focusing on whether it is initiated by foreign policy officials or businessmen, in three sections: Initially, a comprehensive literature review will be presented to clearly define the historicity of Turkey's relationship with the Middle East as well as presenting important concepts and relevant approaches that constitute the basis of the study. The next portion will consist of detailed information in the form of an economic analysis of the historical political and economic development of Turkey's relationship with the Middle East, with an emphasis on the last ten years during which AKP led the shift in Turkey's foreign policy vis-à-vis the region. …

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